Assignment Objective: To create a still life using objects that have meaning to me- ensuring there is good lighting, making tones obvious, looking at spaces between objects, using A2/A3 paper.
I decided to draw my saxophone, some sheet music, a glass of water and a pencil using charcoal on A2 cartridge paper. I gave it the title: “The Perfect Musicians Pencil.” a reference to an in-joke with my piano teacher- this pencil (The Blackwing 602), however worn down, always has a functional eraser on the end, which makes it perfect for adding and altering practice notes on music!! These objects tell a story about me, of being mid-practice session- making notes on the music as I go. I picked these objects because music is a big part of my life and also because the sax is such a beautiful object for its own sake. I was slightly concerned that the sax is also a very complex object but I had a very strong idea of what I wanted to achieve so wanted to have a proper go at tacking it.
I started with some thumbnail sketches and draft sketches in my sketchbook to plan the composition and try out graphite pencil versus charcoal. I did not want to draw the whole sax- I wanted to focus in on part of it so that it put the other objects equally centre-stage. I had to try this out a couple of times so I could get a feel of where I wanted the objects on the paper. The charcoal resulted in a lively spontaneous sketch, while the pencil gave a more accurate but also a more stilted image. I positioned the composition in natural light- this created more subtle tones than using a lamp.
I lightly outlined the main shapes and structure of the objects using a pencil. I took a long time to measure and position each element of the drawing as accurately as possible. The exact orientation of the objects was at this point determined by the fact I was working on an easel. I had to stand back a bit and could not get quite as close to look down on the objects as I had wanted to.
I lightly sketched in the main tones and shapes of the objects using the side of some vine charcoal. I built up form slowly, layering the tones to build mid- to dark-shaded areas, trying to leave the white areas clean. I was able to remove the charcoal where it muddied the picture, using my fingers or an eraser, and kept working methodically until a structured picture emerged. I was trying very hard to accurately represent the objects’ anatomy and highlights/shading.
The shape of the sheet music was surprisingly hard to get in perspective, especially where it emerged behind the sax.
For a long time I worked on capturing accurate detail, but the sax only started to come to life when I realised that I had to describe the negative space between the keys as well as the keys themselves. The background was a black granite work-surface and when I started to add that in, the sax seemed to emerge from the background in stark relief and develop a 3D quality I hadn’t managed to capture up to that point! The highlights and different shading on the shiny metal started to make sense as a representation of the instrument’s form.
The challenge with the water glass was very different. There were a lot of mutated shapes (staves and shadows) wrapped around and through the glass. I tried to just observe accurately and reproduce only what I could see. Some of the detail of the sax was visible through the glass, above the waterline, albeit slightly muted.
The sax, the glass and the pencil are all reflected below in the granite surface- I tried to hint at this without detracting from the main objects in the picture.
Finally, I focused on detail- checking the accuracy of highlights etc. I used a charcoal pencil to outline and darkening some of the tones to exaggerate detail and contrast. I also tried highlighting some of the lightest areas with a white conte crayon and acrylic paint applied with a brush. This was a mistake as I felt mixing the media took away from the freshness of charcoal alone. Whites that relied on just the colour of the paper were much fresher. Similarly in some places I tried adding finer detail using a rollerball pen, but decided very quickly that it just made it look over-fussy and detracted from the natural fluidity of the charcoal. I should have tested out both before applying them to the finished drawing!
“The Perfect Musicians Pencil.” Charcoal on A2 cartridge paper
Assessment criteria points
- Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (35%). I felt I exhibited technical and visual skills. I applied a lot of what I learned in part one and was clear in my mind about what I wanted to produce visually- both in terms of style of drawing and composition on the paper. Due to the complex nature of the objects chosen (I was worried the sax might have been over-ambitious) I was careful to focus on accurate observation and to draw only what I could see. I like the looseness and expressive nature of charcoal and how it leads you to focus on shapes, contours and contrasts rather than getting too stuck on fine details. I think I depicted the contrasting surfaces and 3D shapes of the objects, to create a picture that captured solidity and depth, with sufficient shadow to ground the objects and give them mass/weight.
- Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%). I felt I worked logically and developed my idea from concept to finished drawing. From the start I had a very clear image in my mind’s eye of the composition of the still life and what I wanted to capture on paper. I hope this is communicated above.
- Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (25%). Experimentation was through trying out a few different compositions and media. I was clear from the start that I wanted to use charcoal, but was less happy with different media I tried adding later. I should have worked these through in my sketchbook beforehand! I don’t feel this assignment overly challenged my imagination as I more or less directly applied what I’d learned in part one of the course. As a still life it says a lot about me- music and practice is a big part of my life!
- Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays) (20%). If I did this again I might try using masking fluid to protect the highlight areas- so the paper underneath stays clean until the end. I would also be interested to try using pen and ink or washes to try to smooth out the tones and give a more “shiny” finish. In the course so far, I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities – I am reading a lot and becoming more immersed in the subject and my confidence and enjoyment is increasing.